Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Year of the Counter Offer

When I meet a recruiter, I always ask how business is. This week at a local networking event I was surprised to learn 2016 is the year of the counter offer.

This recruiter, who works for a national placement agency, told me recruits are receiving and accepting the counter offer so often (more frequently this year than ever before) her firm has named 2016, “The year of the counter offer.” Seeking new employment as a way to force an employer to give you a raise is so popular this agency is calling it a trend.

She stated despite the great recession having ended a few years ago, many companies continue to be apprehensive about the economy, are reluctant to convert temporary employees to permanent and have not given employees a decent raise in years. Millennials who accepted jobs below normal starting salaries are tired of waiting for a fair wage and are using the counter offer as a salary negotiation tool. 

Companies are well aware of how much it costs to hire and train a new employee:

According to Zane Benefits:
Some studies (such as SHMR) predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. For a manager making $40,000 a year, that's $20,000 to $30,000 in recruiting and training expenses.

But others predict the cost is even more - that losing a salaried employee can cost as much as 2x their annual salary, especially for a high-earner or executive level employee.
I learned this the hard-way after one of my employees left last year. I now realize it is cheaper in the long run to figure out how to keep employees rather than having to endure the time and cost of recruiting and training someone new.

If you do threaten to leave your job be aware of the potential risks:
You may not receive a counter offer:
You or your position may not be as valuable to your employer as you think it is. Also, some employers think everyone is replaceable and have a policy to never give a counter-offer. 

Accepting the counter offer could hurt your reputation:
Most employers have good memories; from this day forward you may be known as the employee who resigned to get a raise.

My company has this employee – he actually accepted a counter offer on two separate occasions. When he was seeking a promotion last year he came very close to not getting it because of reservations as to whether he was management material. Similar to my friend who is known as the 4:00 and she's out of here employee, he is known as the counter offer employee. As he struggles to adapt to his new management role, several managers site his counter offer history as an ignored warning sign.

You are burning bridges:
I accepted the counter-offer when I was in my 20’s. Very similar to the scenario above both a co-worker and I accepted counter-offers after finding new jobs with the same placement firm I referenced above. We had both been warned of the disadvantages of accepting the counter-offer (if we are unhappy now, we will most likely be unhappy six months from now just better paid). We both had liked our jobs, but needed and thought we deserved more money. In both cases, our employer matched our new salary as an incentive to keep us. Unfortunately, a year later we were both out of a job when our entire department was relocated to Chicago. My co-worker regretted her counter-offer decision as she struggled to find another new job. I never regretted mine because I easily found a job on my own, but the agency I had worked with never worked with me again. I am sure there was a "don't work with" note attached to my file.

You may be fired in the future:
If our entire department had not been downsized, I wonder if our jobs would not have been in jeopardy in the future. Assistants were hired for both of us shortly after our counter-offers were put in place without our permission or request. My co-worker’s assistant didn’t work out and left a few months after she was hired. I struggled to keep mine busy (would you train an unwanted assistant to do your job). He was the first person to leave when the department lay-off was announced.

My recommendation:
My company’s economist projects 2016 as a year of slow but steady growth, but 2017 to be a year of contraction. My recommendation is instead of 2016 being the year of the counter-offer make it the year your find a great new job especially if you have a few years of experience. If you wait and are underpaid, underemployed or your company still hasn’t hired you permanently you may be stuck in an undesirable work situation for several years to come.

Have you ever accepted a counter offer? Was it a good decision?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Does Everyone Over 40 Long For a New Career?

One of the first things I noticed upon meeting my new physical therapist was how unhappy he was in his job.  He began his career as a self-employed physical therapist specializing in workman’s comp injuries. His primary client had been a large factory in the Milwaukee area.  His days had been long since he had to cover all three shifts, but the pay was excellent.  Then in the early 2000's the factory was sold. The new owners had stringent business insurance requirements he was unable to meet. His contract was terminated and he was replaced by a large company.  He was offered a job with this company, but declined.  He questioned the educational background of their therapists and the salary he was offered was insulting.

He spent the next year working with his two small remaining accounts and trying to secure new business, but Milwaukee had lost numerous manufacturing facilities since 1986 and the ones who remained were not looking for a physical therapist.  Eventually he closed his business and accepted a position as a staff therapist with a company affiliated with one of the local medical providers. That was where he was working when I met him.

A lot has changed since my therapist graduated in 1986:

Around the end of the 1990's, a bachelor's degree in physical therapy was slowly replaced by master's and doctorate physical therapy degrees. My therapist who holds only an undergraduate degree was grandfathered in. He tells me his company recently hired a new graduate with a master’s degree.  He points to her and tells me she doesn’t know any more than he does.  She earns an annual salary of $55,000 while he currently makes $75,000. He also has a 401(k), is eligible for state unemployment if he finds himself downsized and has medical insurance. He had had none of these while self-employed.

What he doesn’t like about his job:

He always has to be on.  He has to meet and talk to patients all day while his ex-wife who works as a financial analyst can just sit and stare at her computer when she doesn’t feel like working.

He is now billable and has to track his time hourly. He works with 24 different patients at all times.  He has to have vacation time approved in advance. He can’t just take an afternoon off on a nice day or not go in the day after a holiday if he doesn’t feel like it.

He can’t drink a soda while working with a patient. His new company told him this is rude.  To do so he would have to offer them a beverage as well and they are not in the beverage serving business.

His job is boring.

Every day is the same.  Of his 24 patients three of them usually have elbow tendinitis – my affliction. The treatment for tennis elbow is always the same. 

I suggested working with people in their homes; thinking he might enjoy that more.

He said that would be much worse and more boring than his current job.  You then work with the elderly and your job consists of, “See you again on Wednesday Betty be sure to squeeze the bag of beans when I’m gone.” At least in his current job his patients usually get better.

I asked if he had to maintain continuing education. 

He does and he likes doing that, he enjoys learning something new and his employer pays him for his time while he is out of the office.   He then got up and left.  When he returned he said he had just signed up for a day of CPE.

If he could have a do-over what would he do?

He’d be a TV reporter, but at 45 he thinks he is too old for TV.

At our last appointment he said he thinks everyone longs for a career change after age 40. It is hard to know at age 18 what you will make you happy when you are 40. 

As for me, I kind of think I would have preferred a career as a physical therapist rather than as an accounting manager, but I choose accounting, so I am making the best of it. As to everyone, I am sure many people do long for a new career.  I heard my company's President make two comments in the last week about not being happy with his career choice - running the family business.  He is 47 and at one point wanted to be a lawyer or a politician. 

Do you think everyone over 40 longs for a new career?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

How Not to Feel Trapped? Advice from Andre Agassi

One of my coworkers, I will call him Frank, is trapped in his job.  He is approaching 70 and forced to continue working to pay for his wife’s medical expenses. His wife has been bedridden for several years due to M.S. Frank is loud, abrasive and intimidating.  His constant complaining brings his entire department down.  Frank is also at the top of the list of employees my company hopes to force into retirement with our software conversion.

I read Andre Agassi’s book Open: An Autobiography earlier this year for my savvy reading challenge.  While thinking about my new series staying relevant over 50 I couldn’t help, but think of Andre Agassi.

The surprising thing you learn early in Agassi’s book is he hated playing tennis.  From an early age when his dad bought a fire breathing dragon contraption that shot tennis balls out of its mouth he hated tennis.  Tennis was his dad’s dream not his own.

Andre thinks a lot about what he can control in tennis and in life:

I tell Perry that I having no choice, having no say about what I do or who I am, makes me crazy.  That is why I put more thought, obsessive thought, into the few choices I do have – what I wear, what I eat, who I call my friends. (Pg. 66)

I obsess about the few things I can control and racket tension is one of them.  (Pg. 13)

The time has come.  I need to take control of my money.  I need to take control of my F***ing Life. (Pg. 114)

I find peace in his claim that perfectionism is voluntary.  Perfectionism is something I choose, and its ruining me, I can choose something else. (Pg. 189)

And lastly, his life and his tennis (he was losing a lot) didn’t improve until he chose tennis:

I play and keep playing because I choose to play. Even if it’s not your ideal life, you can always choose it. No matter what your life is choosing it is everything. (pg. 359)

Agassi also began using the money he made from tennis to make a difference. In 2001, Agassi opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children in the area. According to Wikipedia, he personally donated $35 million to the school.

Do you feel trapped in your job?  According to Forbes, 52.3% of Americans are unhappy with their work.

From time-to-time I too feel trapped in my job.  My husband retired last year and ever since we’ve been bombarded with unexpected bills; ranging from helping a family member, to dental and medical expenses to a new vehicle for me. Plans of early retirement continue to get pushed further into the future.  

What can I do?
I can change my attitude and choose my job. I can remember why I decided to become an accountant – I thought it would be a reliable and lucrative career.  And be grateful that for the most part my career has been both.  I can try to stay present at work instead of writing blog posts in my head all day and I can help others.

From time to time I ask Frank how he is managing and he breaks down and tells me not good. That he never lets his wife see his anger or his fear.  I listen and suggest he look into signing his wife up for Medicare (she is 68) and a supplemental plan – and don’t judge why he hasn’t done this already or why our HR manager hasn’t suggested this.

I also find it helpful to leave work at a reasonable time, go to the gym and use my vacation days.

Frank has to choose his job too.  He has made the decision to continue working until his finances are under control and in the process has become difficult to work with.  Management will only put up with a difficult employee so long. If he truly wants to meet his goal he will have to change his attitude.   

Do you feel trapped in your job? How do you cope?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, April 03, 2016

New Series: Staying Relevant over 50

It is official – my company will be converting our client-server business software to a new cloud based system later this year. The contract was signed this week. My boss and I knew our company’s owners would decide to make the conversion someday, but we thought (were hoping) it wouldn’t be quite so soon.

After the announcement was made, one of our company owners told me both my boss and I spend too much time entering and manipulating data.  There are more important things we should be working on. He also mentioned that 50% of our employees would not embrace this change and was hoping some of the curmudgeon’s would retire. (I wrote more about this in my post Do software conversions force older employees into retirement?)

My immediate reaction was skepticism and a fear of the unknown.  How will my job change?  Will I have enough work to do if the reports I spend hours creating are automatically produced?

Fortunately, I was comforted by Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. He writes:

Americans fear technology in the near future because they see it as a replay of the globalization of the near past.  But the situations are very different: people compete for jobs and for resources; computers compete for neither. (pg. 141)


Computers are far more different from people than any two people are different from each other: men and machines are good at fundamentally different things.  People have intentionality – we form plans and make decisions in complicated situations.  We’re less good at making sense of enormous amounts of data.  Computers are exactly the opposite they excel at efficient data processing, but they struggle to make basic judgments that would be simple for any human. (pg. 143)

I wish my company’s owners would read this quote:

The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete. (pg. 141)

It appears my job’s focus in the future will be on interpreting data which I do enjoy, rather than creating spreadsheets which I must admit at times can be mind-numbingly boring. I need to remember
Worry and regret never solves tomorrow’s problems and only drains away energy from today. James Altucher
This post is the first in a new series I am implementing called, “Staying relevant over 50.” A few years ago, I read a statement claiming advertisers don’t market to the over 54 age group because this group is no longer relevant.  My ultimate goal of this series, other than providing relevancy suggestions and tips, is to prove these advertisers are wrong.

How do you recommend staying relevant over 50?

Please note I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Requesting “Doggie Bag” at a Business Lunch

Amy writes:

When I graduated from college my mentor gave me a list of business rules* to follow.  One of her recommendations was to never take anything home from a business lunch in a doggie bag because it makes you look cheap.  Recently at an interview lunch, I was nervous and unable to eat more than a few bites of my entrée.  While I would have appreciated the leftovers, when the waitress asked if I needed a take-out box I said no.  My interviewer appeared annoyed and asked why I wasn’t taking my leftovers home.  I blurted out I was told you should never request a doggie bag at a business lunch.  He said that was ridiculous and I walked out with a doggie bag.  Was I wrong?

Dear Amy,

In this instance I think you were not wrong to refuse the doggie bag, you were wrong to not attempt to eat more.  When you didn’t accept the take-out box the interviewer must have thought you were being wasteful. I once attended a business lunch where a guest ate only a few bites of her salmon entrée.  She too refused the take-out bag.  I didn’t say anything, but surmised she had not liked the food.   

In choosing what to order at a business lunch, I always select the easiest item to eat in the mid-priced category.  Usually for a lunch this is a sandwich.  I then focus on eating the main entrée leaving the sides especially fries or chips for last.  If I can’t finish all my food, it still looks like I’ve eaten the majority of my plate.  I also sometimes stop eating if everyone else has long since finished.

On a side note, the person requesting the lunch should always pay the bill.  I’ve had a couple of business meetings at coffee shops where the party requesting the meeting was late.   I usually give them a few minutes, then go ahead and buy my own coffee.  This too is probably a mistake, but it just feels weird to me to sit there with nothing and wait.

Do you request a doggie bag at a business lunch?  What about coffee shops, if you are the first to arrive do you buy your own coffee?

*Other items on her list were to never hang your sweater over your chair, never let them so you cry and to always go alone to networking events – you are forced to meet other people.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rethinking My Decision to Prepare My Own Tax Return

I have always considered my ability to prepare my own taxes a side benefit of my CPA license. I work in industry, so I don’t prepare anyone’s taxes other than my own, but felt I was proficient enough to prepare my own return. This year was different than prior years in that my husband had pension and social security income for the first time, we sold investments and I was hoping to use the personal energy credit for the water heater and gas furnace we had purchased in 2015. I spent three weekends preparing our returns and in hindsight think perhaps I should have used a professional preparer. Here are a few things I learned:

Only 85% of social security benefits are included in taxable income.

My husband started receiving social security last year, since I work full-time I knew we would pay tax on this income, but was surprised TurboTax included only 85% of this benefit as taxable income. According to the SSA website
No one pays federal income tax on more than 85 percent of his or her Social Security benefits based on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules.
Pensions are taxable, but not according to my husband’s 1099-R.

On the form 1099-R my husband received for his pension, the taxable amount box was blank and the taxable amount not determined box was checked. When I entered the 1099-R exactly as provided, TurboTax concluded the pension wasn’t taxable. After reading TurboTax guidelines concerning pension income, I decided the pension income had to be taxable and entered it accordingly.

Remember the personal energy credit I was so excited to take advantage of:

From my post Appliances Don't Qualify for Energy Credit:
The $500 lifetime credit (10% of cost up to $500) for energy efficient improvements has been extended until 12/31/16. I am excited about this one since we installed a new furnace and water heater in 2015 – although $500 doesn’t come anywhere close to covering 10% of what we spent.
It turns out:

The energy credit for natural gas, propane, or oil furnace or hot water boiler with an annual fuel utilization rate of 95 or greater is capped at $150.

TurboTax did not ask for any information on water heaters, so we did not receive a credit for the new heater. Today I found the following on the website:
Natural gas, propane, or oil water heater which has either an energy factor of at least 0.82 or a thermal efficiency of at least 90 percent: $300.
Perhaps I missed something for the water heater, but at the time I determined we were only eligible for the $150 credit. 

Establishing cash basis for our sold investments was kind of nightmarish:

The 1099-B I received for our sold securities included basis for only a portion of our sold investments – there was a section for transactions for which basis is reported to the IRS and another section titled transactions for which basis is not reported to the IRS.

My boss, who prepares taxes on the side, informed me there was a law change about four years ago requiring brokerage firms to provide basis information for mutual funds purchased after January 1st, 2012. Since the assets we sold included mutual funds purchased both before and after January 1st 2012, the 1099-B provided basis only for the assets purchased after this date.

I called our brokerage firm who was able to provide the original cash basis for all our sold investments. I then had to reconcile the basis by each individual asset by date (there were several pages of these). The final cash loss I calculated did not equal what was on the 1099-R. In the end, my husband pushed me to file with the information I had. The loss wasn’t off by a lot only about a hundred dollars and I did use the lessor loss. If we are ever audited and I was wrong at least the IRS will owe us money.

Taxable losses can be deducted up to $3000 and the excess can be carried over to future returns:

According to the IRS website:
Generally, realized capital losses are first offset against realized capital gains. Any excess losses can be deducted against ordinary income up to $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) on line 13 of Form 1040.

Losses in excess of this limit can be carried forward to later years to reduce capital gains or ordinary income until the balance of these losses is used up.
Okay I am sure I knew this when I took the CPA exam, but didn’t make the correlation when we sold the assets. I deducted the loss and am not questioning this one further.

Our taxes are filed – I paid $92 for the federal and state TurboTax Premier. I know of a tax preparer who sets her fee based on the number of forms she prepares, so I imagine I would have paid $250 or more if I’d have hired someone to prepare this return. My co-workers tell me my boss’s fees are reasonable, but I didn't want him to know my entire financial situation. I think I will be okay preparing my return next year, but if we ever sell securities again I will strongly consider seeking professional help.

Do you prepare your own tax return? Are you sure you took advantage of all the incentives available?

Disease Called Debt

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Why Your Spouse Hides Money?

In a previous post I mentioned I’ve had a few requests over the years from employees who wanted to hide money (commissions, bonuses and pay increases) from their soon to be ex-spouse during a divorce. Divorce, though, is not the only situation where I’ve received requests from employees wishing to hide money.

When the company where I work was in the process of transitioning payroll processing to an outside provider our owners decided to make direct deposit mandatory.  Check distribution had become a nightmare for our in-house payroll staff.  One week an employee would want their check mailed to their work location, the next to their home, sometimes they changed their request more than once for the same paycheck. If a payroll clerk made a mistake or didn’t get the latest message she was verbally abused and complaints were made to the owners.

Not everyone was in favor of direct deposit:

When the mandatory direct deposit announcement was made, several employees at one of our locations threatened to contact the department of labor.  They felt their rights were being violated. These employees were paid via commission and were using a portion of their check, unbeknownst to their spouse, to fund their weekly poker game. Since commissions fluctuated, their spouse didn’t miss what she wasn’t aware of.  Mandatory direct deposit is not legal in all states, but is in the state of Wisconsin, so our owners went with their mandatory direct deposit plan. Pay-stubs were mailed to the employee’s home.

After the transition to direct deposit, complaints stopped and conflict over paycheck whereabouts subsided.  That is until we announced we were issuing separate bonus checks this year. The same group of employees from above requested these checks be mailed to their work location rather than their home. They didn’t want their spouse to know they had earned a bonus. They actually made the comment, “If we screw this up heads will roll.”

The above employees were all male, but I also know a wife who hid money.  When my male co-worker’s spouse changed jobs a few years ago she failed to tell him she had neglected to roll over her 401(k) distribution money into another qualified plan.  He discovered this upon receiving an unusual 1099 the following year.  When he asked where the money had gone, she confided she used it to pay down credit card debt. Debt that currently had a balance of over $20,000. This debt also came as a surprise.  Her credit card statements had been mailed to her sister’s house. What had the credit cards been used for? Nothing in particular; clothes, shoes, purses, and expensive beauty products.

This marriage survived, but just barely. My co-worker took over the management of their finances, he cut up her credit cards, she took a side job cleaning offices to help pay down her debt, he opened a checking account in his name and gives her a monthly allowance.   He has tried to teach her about money, but thinks she’s not listening.  She spends her entire allowance each month without saving a single penny. He confided he has a hard time trusting her and occasionally checks her vehicle’s trunk for hidden purchases. 

I suggested perhaps he is not the best person to teach her about money:

I am sure it is hard for him to not let his anger surface during these money lessons making it easy for her to shut him out.  I’ve heard good things about NFCC and Dave Ramsey’s classes which are commonly held at local churches.  I recommended they attend a class or financial counseling session together. He vehemently disagreed. She needs financial training not him and refuses to go with her.

I had a conversation with her recently when she stopped by our office, she tells me they don’t have cable or internet at home and she finds this burdensome.  She was also on her way to buy some Aveda shampoo because it made her hair smell so nice.

They need help setting joint goals:

He wants to move to a bigger home, to save for their son’s education and to save for their retirement.  I’d be surprised if she doesn’t want these things too. A counselor could help them prepare a budget they both could live with. She also needs to learn how to spend less than she earns and the importance of an emergency fund.

Why do spouses hide money?

A spouse may feel since they are the one who earned the money they get to determine how it is spent, their goals aren’t in alignment, they are covering up a bad habit or they are competitive with each other.

Why do you think spouses hide money?

  *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and DIY Jahn*